Friday, April 24, 2009

How Not to Make a Lemon Souffle

I had extra eggs so I was going to bake a lemon souffle. But first I had to do a magic trick for the kids with a copper tube and a paint lid, switching hands and spinning three times. Our laughing woke the toddler midnap so I spent twenty minutes getting him back down.

The souffle recipe on page 740 referred me to page 739 to read about preparing souffle dishes which referred me to page 238 for souffle options which referred me to page 220 for the photo of the ovenproof baking dish. The kids finished stirring their unsupervised cobbler with its pinches of poppy, sunflower, and sesame seeds and hunks of melting anonymous berries oozing purple into batter the consistency of peanut butter. Hunting for a suitable dish for my souffle, passing the fruit bowl, I notice there’s only one lemon, puckered at both ends, on its way to leather, its molding belly anchoring a rejection from ZYZZYVA.

The toddler trundles down the staircase crying while the cobbler darkens in the oven. At the very back of the cupboard I find the Chessmans and dole out the seven cookies the raccoons didn’t get to when they pilfered from the tea tray I forgot on the deck last night by accident. Milk skin floats intact on both Elizabeth’s cup and mine (left over Earl from our writing meeting in the cabin), The Book of Questions on my desk, a harvest of light from the mind of Neruda (finished not long before he died, translated by William O’Daly) opening with: “Which yellow bird/fills its nest with lemons?”

Friday, April 17, 2009

How can it take two months to mail a tube of goat lotion... my father-in-law in Mexico?! The excuses I jot down for him can’t do justice to the territory: stitches across my son’s eyelid, scabies scare, lice outbreak at the school, Easter vacation (kids home 24/7 for two weeks), great grandpa breaking his arm and fracturing his pelvis. Add the weekend demands of my husband’s schedule, and I’m fantasizing about beaming my father-in-law up, to float even with the stained glass lamp for that aerial view reserved for lucid dreams, acid trips or PMS: my son wringing out the sponge onto his little brother’s head while the paper airplanes soar and my daughter loses her second needle for the day: “Maybe by the couch?! I don’t know, Mom, but I’m not done and I need a new one!”

I’m not a bath-play-date mom but when my three year old and his friend can’t do without the windup scuba diver (the plastic turtle pool buried under a cord of madrone wood), I fill the upstairs tub with a foot of water. Of course, the little people end up stripping, hopping in. The next day, I get the call about the possibility of my son’s friend carrying an active case of scabies. I’m a river kid—please—I grew up being exposed to everything under the sun, but I also have the type of personality to err on the side of anal, so I pull the other two kids out of school until we can ascertain if we’re infected or contagious.

My father wryly reminds me that when my sister contracted it as a kid, my brother and I reduced her to tears by calling her “Scabes” and “Scaby Baby.” My mother, ever practical, says none of the rest of us caught it, which causes me to stop freaking out about my little family in the woods. With neither the freedom to fly nor the promise of the next day hangover wearing off when things right themselves and the world returns to its borders—I remain firmly lodged: yesterday a mother of three, today a mother of three, and tomorrow, damp towel around my head, eyes stinging with tea tree and pennyroyal oil, Patricia Hampl’s Burning Bright, An Anthology of Sacred Poetry to read.

Within moments, I’m in love with the Czeslow Milosz poem, On Angels, inspired by Hampl to go back to the making of my own “silva rerum (forest of things)”--a lifelong assignment begun years ago in Sandra McPherson’s undergraduate poetry class. (In addition to writing a poem a week, we compiled our own “favorite poems by others” reader). I bought a 11x7 sketchpad and handwrote out the first five stanzas of A Child’s Christmas in Wales (who can resist that Dylan Thomas headlong rush into image and sound, Mrs. Prothero, etc.), probably some stanzas from Adrienne Rich’s Diving into the Wreck, maybe a couple poems by the Carolyns (Kizer, Forche).

As if in response to psychic calm, things begin to right themselves in the household. My husband extracts, without skewering his thumb, all two inches of my daughter’s hot needle from the dryer. And waiting for me on the floor (beside the youngest’s night bottle curdling towards morning’s yogurt), Noelle Oxenhandler’s The Eros of Parenthood, Hampl’s Blue Arabesque: A Search for the Sublime. Definitely worth waking for, and the feral cats will take the yogurt without complaint.

Friday, April 10, 2009

When Sandy asks me for a poem to pen across her sculpture of a male torso...

I have to go through my inventory to see how many poems I’ve written from the male p.o.v., about men, or to men. It brings me up short to see, of course the polarization (towards the female experience), since, wouldn’t you know, I’d just this month publicly noted my emotional response to what I perceived as a lack of focus on female characters in Per Peterson’s novel Out Stealing Horses (“What is the purpose of revealing yourself in memoir?” posted at My point wasn’t that Peterson has to write more in-depth female characters into his novels, but that I feel responsible to write my own stories as a female writer.

Nudged by Sandy’s query, I discover a mere four poems written from male p.o.v. (one as Nefertiti’s sculptor--Thutmose, one as Pharaoh Ahkenaten addressing the sun god Aten, one as my husband, one as a caretaker). Another handful address other men—a hunter, a soldier, a poet friend who recently passed away, my father, stepfather, son). Would a man reading my words see himself accurately portrayed there? I’d have to ask. Not that I believe I should strive to balance the gender ledger overall in my work, but I do find it worthy to observe the habits of p.o.v., to consider how I might grow as a writer by visiting the male psyche as I strive to reveal the female psyche.

Living in the orbit of my husband and two sons, I have no shortage of men to observe. My husband--still addicted to Lee Child crime novels--muses aloud that 1) he can’t seem to put a Child book down, and 2) he can’t reconcile the recurring theme of women portrayed as victims of brutality. Since I’m always looking for a way to insert more poetry into my husband’s life (which he counters by forecasting my future as a triathlete), I was thrilled last month to read a promo snippet for The Man in the Blizzard, Bart Schneider’s detective novel featuring a Private Investigator with a photographic memory of poetry. I rang the bookstore and had it in hand within 24 hours.

I found Blizzard amusing and engaging, replete with a cast of full-fledged female characters (a daughter, an ex-wife, an assistant among others). Schneider encapsulates entire life scripts with levity and ease in the span of a couple sentences, for example describing the main character’s assistant: “Blossom had been a good girl from South Minneapolis...But the summer after her graduation, before she was to head to college...she met a freckly-faced monster named Kevin who charmed her into a few seasons of bondage and a hearty drug habit. She spent the next decade as a living ruin or in prison (p. 26).” Yet, as I discovered, Blossom is no victim in this tale.

I have to admit the book probably ventures closer to my heart than my man’s—with all those references to poetry (from Szymborska to current Sonoma County poet laureate Mike Tuggle)--but my plan is to put The Man in the Blizzard couch-end nearest the fireplace where the Child book usually sits and wait for the slippers to find the right feet and the adjoining body to lose itself in Schneider’s world while the kids plummet off the couch-back onto that familiar washboard gut.

--To sample Sandy's sculpture visit:

--To view list of upcoming questions for Tiny Lights on-line Writer’s Exchange (and guidelines for submitting work) visit: under Guiding Lights.